Donald Trump has been briefed on intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Taliban members for the killing of British and American troops in Afghanistan, the White House confirmed, as it attacked the New York Times for revealing the information.
US intelligence reports indicating the Russian military had offered to pay bounties to Taliban-linked fighters were first revealed by the New York Times on Friday, and have since been supported by reports from several other US news outlets.
The reports prompted criticism of Mr Trump, with Democrats accusing the US president of failing to retaliate against Russia.
Mr Trump's aides initially said he had not been briefed on the intelligence reports and insisted the sources had not been verified, but the political fallout from the reporting has forced the White House to brief members of Congress on the intelligence.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, called a briefing on Tuesday to publicly rebuke the New York Times for its reporting, accusing it of damaging "our ability to collect intelligence".
"Which allies will want to share information with us if they know that some rogue intelligence officer can go splash that information on the front page of a major US newspaper?"
"You undermine our country's safety and our security," she said, adding: "This discord plays directly into the hands of Russia and serves their interest".
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 30, 2020
During the briefing Ms McEnany also confirmed Mr Trump has been briefed on the intelligence since the reports emerged on Friday.
Ms McEnany added that there were still reservations within the intelligence community on the veracity of the allegations, and insisted that Mr Trump would act to safeguard American forces.
"Make no mistake. This president will always protect American troops," she said.
Moscow has denied the allegations, dismissing the reports as "lies."
However Mr Trump is coming under growing pressure from Congress to respond to take up the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democratic congressman Adam Schiff said it was "inexplicable" that Mr Trump will not state publicly that he is working to get to the bottom of the issue and demand answers from Mr Putin.
Some Republicans who were briefed by the White House on the intelligence also said they left with questions. Republican senator Ben Sasse, a member of the intelligence panel, said that Congress should focus on finding out who knew what, and when, "and did the commander in chief know? And if not, how the hell not?"
Others said they were satisfied with the answers they received. Jim Inhofe, chair of the Senate Armed Services committee, said he was "convinced" Mr Trump did not know about the intelligence.
While Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not new, US officials said Russian operatives became more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The intelligence community has reportedly been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three US Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they traveled back to Bagram Airfield, the largest US military installation in Afghanistan.
Three other US personnel were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
One official told the Associated Press that the Trump administration discussed several potential responses, but the White House has yet to authorise any.
Intelligence officials also told the AP that the White House first became aware of alleged Russian bounties in early 2019 - a year earlier than had been previously reported. The assessments were included in one of Mr Trump's written daily presidential briefings at the time, and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton told colleagues he had briefed Mr Trump on the matter.
The White House said it never comments on what classified information is included within the written briefings.
Joe Biden, Mr Trump's Democratic opponent, accused the president of a "betrayal" of American troops in exchange for "an embarrassing campaign of deferring and debasing himself before Putin."